Planning a trip to Cologne? Keep reading to find out all the best things to do in Cologne Germany.
As one of Germany’s most important cities, Cologne is a city-break-worthy destination that packs a punch. Best known for its stunning Cathedral- the largest in Europe- quality museums, a rich history, and a carnival, Cologne is one of the best places to visit in Germany.
Flattened by WWII bombs, it’s safe to say that it’s made quite the recovery. Among its charming streets, you’ll find a beautiful Old Town, the world-class Gothic Cathedral as well as 12 Romanesque Churches that made it a center of pilgrimage many years ago.
Today modern Cologne is also known for its fun carnival, the local beer, and a plethora of modern museums. There are also many great places to eat, hip boutiques to shop in, and chic cafes to grab a coffee. Let’s jump into the best Cologne Germany things to do.
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Wonderful Things to Do in Cologne
Cologne is one of Germany’s largest and most visited cities. While it was heavily bombed and destroyed by the allies during the second world war, there’s still very much history, culture, and things to do in Cologne today.
Here’s a rundown of the 16 best things to do in Cologne so you can plan the perfect city itinerary.
Savor Cologne Cathedral (Kölner Dom)
Standing tall in the center of Cologne is the Köln Dom or Cathedral, Germany’s most visited landmark. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996, the cathedral is a symbol of German Catholicism and Gothic architecture.
Dating back to the 13th Century, the cathedral took more than 600 years to build before it was finally completed in 1880. Modeled around the Amiens Cathedral in France, the Latin cross-shaped structure contains many pieces of art, fine stained-glass windows, and some of the best surviving examples of Gothic architecture.
Visiting the magnificent Cologne cathedral is free. Inside the historic building, it’s difficult not to be impressed by the heaven-bound columns, tall arches, and ribbed ceilings. The most exquisite treasure inside the cathedral is the Shrine of the Three Kings, a solid gold casket said to contain relics of the Magi.
If you have the time it’s also worth heading up to the cathedral bell tower where you’ll get 360-degree, panoramic views of Cologne- a brilliant place to watch the sunset.
Go for a Walk over Hohenzollern Bridge (Hohenzollernbrücke)
Hohenzollern bridge is probably Cologne’s most famous bridge. The three-arched steel structure was originally built between 1907 and 1911 only to be destroyed towards the end of the war in 1945 to limit access into the city of Cologne. The bridge was rebuilt again and is open to train, bike, and pedestrian traffic only.
One of the best things about taking a walk across the love lock bridge is the views you can get of the Cathedral. If you’re looking for a really great photo opportunity- there are some real gems on this bridge.
You’ll also find quite a few love padlocks over the bridge and even though these add weight to the bridge over time, Cologne is one of the only European cities where these padlocks haven’t been removed.
Wander Around the Old Town
Going for a walk around Cologne’s Old Town (Altstadt) is a must when it comes to the best things to do in Cologne. Not only will a walk around help you get your bearings but you’ll also be able to discover Cologne’s prettiest sector.
The Old Town has countless things to see. Cobblestone alleyways that snake around the Old Town, galleries, cafes, restaurants, and of course traditional half-timber houses, now the home of Cologne’s best beer halls.
Some of the best things to see in the Old Town are Cologne’s Town Hall (Rathaus), Alter markt and Heumarkt squares, and the colorful buildings of Fischmarkt. Around every corner lurks a prettier street so make sure to give some time to wandering around and exploring all the best corners of Cologne.
If you prefer a guided city tour instead of just walking around by yourself, then there are plenty to choose from. Opt for this Old Town Highlights Walking Tour to explore the old town and Cologne Cathedral with a local guide.
For a similar Old Town and Cathedral Tour with a chance to take the local Kölsch beer click here.
Visit Great St. Martin Church
When wandering around the Old Town, it’s fairly impossible not to notice the towering Romanesque structure of Great St. Martin Church. The church is one of twelve historic Romanesque churches in Cologne, celebrated for their strong and bulky-looking architectural style.
Great St. Martin was originally built in the 10th Century, and its foundations placed on the remnants of a Roman chapel. The church was rebuilt quite a few times throughout its history, firstly after a devastating fire in the 12th Century and then after the World War II bombing.
The church has quite a few classical, Byzantine, and also Baroque influences which can be seen through the internal and external architecture. While impressive enough from the outside, make sure to have a quick peek inside too.
Some other Romanesque churches in Cologne also worth visiting are St. Maria im Kapitol and St. Maria Lyskirchen which are both nearby, in the Old Town.
Take in the Views from Köln Triangle
While walking along the Rhine you might notice, the Köln Triangle, a 103-metre-tall building on Cologne’s right bank. The building is mostly filled with office space which isn’t too exciting, but, at its summit is an observation deck with the best views of Cologne.
Admission to the top of Köln Triangle cost €8, and you’ll have prime views of Hohenzollern Bridge, Cologne Cathedral, and the whole of the right bank. On a clear day, you can see for miles and the views are really breathtaking.
If you can, try to make your way up to the observation deck for sunset. The sun sets behind Cologne Cathedral making for a really spectacular golden view when the weather cooperates.
Things to Do in Cologne: Visit the Chocolate Museum
The Chocolate Museum (Schokoladenmuseum) in Cologne is one of the most popular museums, especially for families and those with a sweet tooth. It’s the perfect opportunity to learn about the history of chocolate in Europe, and how it’s cultivated as well as sample some of the best chocolate in Cologne.
So how did a chocolate museum come about in Germany? The museum was founded by German chocolatier Hans Imhoff who aspired to open a chocolate factory and museum. In 1972 he acquired the Stollwerck chocolate factory where he uncovered lots of broken machinery, materials, and other remnants of chocolate manufacturing.
Imhoff began preserving and restoring what he found and today this makes the base of the museum.
At the Chocolate museum, you can learn about how cocoa is grown and cultivated and discover the whole chocolate-making process from bean to bar. You’ll be able to uncover a whole world related to chocolate from antique boxes to a collection of molds.
The museum also runs workshops where you can design and make your own chocolate bar. Oh, and the real-life chocolate fountain is pretty impressive too. For chocolate lovers, this is one of the best things to do in Cologne.
The Chocolate Museum is one of Cologne’s most popular tourist attractions, especially at weekend. Get your entrance ticket online in advance here and avoid the long queues.
Try Kölsch Beer with a Brewery Visit
Cologne is famous for beer- not all beer but its own, very particular type of beer- kölsch. Kölsch is a light, pale and watery beer that’s strictly brewed in and around Cologne- no other beer qualifies as kölsch.
If you’re a beer fan then tasting kölsch is an absolute must when in Cologne. The perfect place to drink it is in a traditional beer hall and brewery. These are found all over the city but the best ones are in the Old Town, generally clustered around Buttermarkt as they are the most historical.
Gilden im Zims right by Heumarkt is know to be a great spot for drinking kölsch.
Kölsch is drunk in small, 200 ml glasses so don’t be surprised when you don’t see a pint glass at your table. Servers will keep refilling your glass until you put your beermat over the top which means you’ve had enough.
One of the best ways to try Kölsch and learn about Cologne’s beer culture and history is to go on a guided tour. The Cologne Brewery Tour with three tastings takes you to a few different breweries while also teaching you about the local beer culture and some of Cologne’s best legends. Book it ahead here– it’s likely to sell out.
Go for a Cruise on the River Rhine
See Cologne from a different perspective and opt for a relaxing Rhine river cruise. Sit down and relax for 90 minutes and float down the Rhine with a beer or coffee while learning all about Cologne and its major sites.
On the boat trip, you’ll be able to see some of Cologne’s most important sites which include the world-famous Cathedral, five city bridges, the L-shaped crane houses as well as the Old Town.
For more information and to book your tickets click here.
If you’re looking for another day trip idea then the city of Dusseldorf is a fun option. Located just 30 minutes train ride north of Cologne, Dusseldorf is an upscale city full of alternative things to do.
From upscale shopping and dining to modern architecture, there are plenty of fun and cultural things to do in Dusseldorf to fill the day.
Some of the best things to do in Dusseldorf include:
- Explore the Old Town
- Sip Altbier at a traditional beer hall- Zum Uerige is one of the best that’s been brewing since 1860.
- Take a walk along the Rhine on the Rhine Promenade.
- Sample the amazing food at Carlsplatz Market
- Hangout in the Japanese Quarter
- Check out contemporary art at Philara Collection and Kunstakademie.
- Check out the cool architecture at MedienHafen (Media Harbour)
- Summit the Rhine Tower for the best views of Dusseldorf
Visit Melaten Cemetery
One of the best and rather underrated things to do in Cologne is to visit Melaten Cemetery. Located just west of the Belgian Quarter, this cemetery has been around since the 13th Century. It’s a huge site, some 440 square meters with landscaped gardens, historic gravesites, and large, ornate monuments.
Several of Cologne’s most famous and noteworthy residents are laid to rest here, including politicians, actors, and artists.
Visit a Christmas Market
If you plan your trip to Cologne for the end of November or December- which I highly recommend you do- a must-visit are the Cologne Christmas Markets.
Known to be some of the best Christmas Markets in Germany, visiting Cologne’s Christmas markets is the best way to get the festive season started.
The city hosts many different markets from the famous Cathedral Market, located right outside the Cathedral to the lesser-known Neumarkt Market, famous for its Angel theme and falling star decor. You’ll be able to shop all things Christmas which include a wide variety of local gifts, traditional products, and Christmas decor and ornaments.
Visiting the Christmas markets are also a great opportunity to try some typical festive German foods and drinks like mulled wine (gluhwein) grilled sausage (bratwurst) and reibekuchen (potato pancakes).
Hang Out in the Belgian Quarter
One of my personal favorite areas to simply be in Cologne is the Belgian Quarter. The Belgian Quarter is easily Cologne’s most trendy neighborhood with tonnes of cute cafes, restaurants, and boutiques to dip your toes into. It has a wonderfully creative, boho vibe with many creatives and artists living here.
You’ll be able to shop the latest trends in a variety of hip boutiques in the area. One of my favorites for shopping is Magasin Populaire which is filled with pieces from Scandi and lesser-known designers. When needing to refuel your energy with a caffeine boost do so at some of the best coffee shops in Cologne- Miss Päpki for food and coffee and Heilandt Cafe for coffee.
Also, make sure not to miss the area’s street art and art galleries. Walking the streets make sure to look out for the wide variety of eclectic street art and the independent, modern art galleries in the area.
Take a Day Trip to Aachen
Aachen is Germany’s Western-most city and is easily reachable from Cologne for a day trip, or even half day trip. The spa city is just a few miles from both the Dutch and Belgian borders and is known for its long history and cultural heritage.
The best things to do in Aachen include visiting its splendid UNESCO protected Cathedral which is very different from Cologne’s. It’s one of the oldest Cathedrals in Europe dating back to 805. The highlight of the Cathedral is without a doubt the Palatine Chapel- a Byzantine-influenced octagonal chapel with gold mosaic work throughout.
You’ll also want to check out the beautiful town hall (Rathaus). Exploring the old town is also a must and if you’re here right before Christmas, the famous Christmas market is a highlight.
From Cologne, it will take you just under an hour to get to Aachen on the train direct from Cologne’s Central Station.
Things to Do in Cologne: Visit an Art Museum
For a relatively small European city, Cologne has a really impressive number of museums with varying collections. Visiting at least one museum during your time in Cologne is a must and given the broad range of works, there is something here for everyone.
One of my personal favorite must-do things in Cologne is the Ludwig Museum. It’s the place to go in Cologne for modern art and inside the architecturally eye-catching museum, you find works famous works by modern masters.
Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Picasso, Roy Lichtenstein, and Andy Warhol are among just some of the artists whose work you’ll see here. The Museum Ludwig also has the largest collection of Pop Art in Europe as well as German Expressionism.
Apart from the Museum Ludwig, there’s also the Wallraf-Richartz Museum which has a great collection of art from the Middle Ages, Baroque Periods, and the 19th Century. It’s the museum you want for more historical works.
The Museum of Applied Art (MAKK) is also worth mentioning for design loves especially. Here you’ll find an extensive collection of 20th and 21st-century European Design and jewelry.
The Romano-Germanic Museum right across the square from the cathedral is another good option focusing on the archaeological heritage of the city from Roman times until the early Middle Ages.
Relax amidst nature at Flora and Botanical Garden
When the weather permits, one of the best things to do in Cologne is spending time in the various parks around the city and soaking in some nature. The best of these is the Flora and Botanical Garden, a large, well-manicured park with almost 12 hectares of plants from around the world.
At the center of the park, you’ll find a beautiful 19th Century Palm House. Walk through here to be immediately transported to the rainforest of the tropics and to soak in nature.
Make sure not to miss it for a bit of relaxation time in nature in between exploring.
Mingle with the Locals and Celebrate Carnival
Carnival is a big deal in Cologne and if you happen to be in the city during the celebrations then why not get dressed up and join in the fun? Carnival season officially starts on the 11th November and continues all the way until just before Lent with a brief pause for Advent and Christmas.
The big festivities in Cologne, however, happen in the spring when thousands of residents take to the streets in fancy dress to celebrate. Make sure to look out for ‘Rose Monday’ which happens on the Monday before Ash Wednesday when residents will go out masqueraded.
During carnival, you’ll find lots of different cultural events in the city as well as people enjoying themselves from the early hours of the morning until late in the city’s bars and clubs. If you like to party, this is the best time to visit Cologne.
Where to Stay in Cologne
With many options for all budgets, finding a place to stay in Cologne is an easy task. The best area to stay in is around the Old Town or the City Centre for the best access to all the main city sights. Staying in the Belgian Neighbourhood (Belgisches Viertel) is a good idea too if dining, a solid cafe scene, and boutiques are more your vibe.
You’ll also find many apartment rentals, Airbnbs, and VRBOs in Cologne too.
Ruby Ella Hotel – One of the best boutique hotels in the city, this is the perfect stay for design-focused travelers. With sleek and bright rooms, and a modern bar, and a lounge, this hotel has everything you need for a perfect stay in the city. Great staff and breakfast too. The location is a little outside the city center but very close to the Belgian Quarter. Check rates and availability here.
Excelsior Hotel Ernst am Dom – For those looking for 5-star luxury and an unbeatable location right across from Cologne Cathedral then look no further than the Excelsior. With large, plush rooms, extremely comfortable beds, and 5-star service, there are few options in Cologne that beat it. Check rates and availability here.
Hotel Sion– A great budget option for those seeking a comfortable and modern stay in the center- near all the best things to do in Cologne. The rooms are cozy and bright and the breakfast is great too, however, nothing beats the location. Check rates and availability here.
To find the best stays in Cologne for all budgets and locations, use the map below.
Need to Knows before Visiting Cologne
↠ Opt for the Köln Card. If you’re planning to really make the most of what Cologne has to offer then make sure to see if you might benefit from the Köln Card.
The card, valid for 1 or 2 days gives you free access to public transportation as well as large discounts on entry to museums, attractions, restaurants, and sightseeing. Check here to see if you can benefit from the KolnCard.
↠ Pack for all seasons. The weather in Cologne is notorious for changing quickly and you can experience all four seasons in one day. Make sure to pack plenty of warm clothes, summer outfits (depending on the season), and an umbrella.
↠ Download Google Translate on your Phone – Most people speak English however most signs around town are in German only. It’s handy to have the translator app on your phone just in case you need to translate a sign, notice, or menu.
Are you ready to discover the best things to do in Cologne Germany? Let me know your comments and questions in the box, below, I’d love to hear from you.
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